[Gabriel passed away on 23 July 2016, with this site maintained in his memory. NY times obituary]
Gabriel Banat began to study the violin at age six and performed in public a year later. At nine he was heard by Béla Bartók, who stopped in Banat’s hometown, Timisoara, while touring Romania with his regular sonata partner, Ede Zathureczky. As a result, the boy became Zathureczky’s pupil at the Royal Academy Franz Liszt in Budapest. At thirteen he made his debut as soloist with the OMIKE symphony, composed of Jewish musicians purged from their orchestras by Hungary’s anti-Jewish laws. In spite of those laws, while still a student he appeared as soloist with most of Budapest’s major symphony orchestras. At seventeen, just before going into hiding from the Nazis, Banat received his Masters by the Academy after playing his degree program in secret, with the faculty-jury hiding in the darkened hall.
Liberated by the Red Army in the fall of 1944, Banat made his way to Bucharest, where he became the protégé of Georges Enescu, who promptly joined him at the piano in a recital of sonatas by Beethoven, Brahms and Enescu. Alternately harassed and wooed by the Communists, Banat left Romania for Geneva’s International Music Competition; awarded the silver medal, he continued on to the U.S. Maestro Enescu, having left his homeland, performed with Banat again in his New York debut recital. After working with Nathan Milstein, Banat toured the U.S., Western Europe and later, Japan. He soloed with the London and Oslo Philharmonic, the Hague Residentie Orkest, the Paris, Zurich, and Hamburg Radio Orchestras, the Detroit, Baltimore, and Westchester Symphonies, the National Orchestral Society, the Tokyo Akademiker and Telemann chamber orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, which he joined in 1970. During the 1973 Philharmonic strike, elected by his colleagues as their Impresario Pro tem, Banat organized and carried out a historic concert tour of Spain and Portugal by the musicians of his orchestra, independent of its management.
As a chamber musician, Banat performed with the Galimir Quartet, the New Amsterdam and Albeneri Trios, The Rococo Ensemble, The Marlboro Festival, and the New York Philharmonic Chamber Ensembles. Together with his violist wife, Diana, and Susan and Gerald Kagan, he also formed the Banat-Kagan piano quartet.
Devoted to contemporary music since his connection with Bartok and his teachers, Kodály and Enesco, Banat commissioned and recorded works by young American composers of his generation. His recording credits include Vox, Turnabout, CRI, Fimmadar, Decca and Decca-London.
In 1967, in the Auditorium of the New York Library of the Performing Arts, Banat and the Chilean pianist, Mario Miranda, gave the complete cycle of Mozart’s sonatas and variations. The following year collaborating with five different pianists, he gave a six-concert survey of 20th Century violin and piano sonatas. Both series were broadcast on WRVR and WFUV, the Fordham University’s radio station.
Banat’s research in European libraries resulted in “Masters of the Violin” a six-volume collection of violinist-composers of the 17th and 18th centuries (HBJ-Johnson Reprint, 1980), including concertos by the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, premiered by Banat in New York, Osaka and Tokyo. In 1985, he re-discovered the original autograph scores of Mozart’s five violin concertos, believed lost in WWII. Published by Banat in facsimile (Raven Press, 1986) Isaac Stern declared the volume “Of enormous interest and inestimable value.” Subsequently, Banat performed them in Tokyo according to the manuscripts.
Banat taught at Smith College and Hart College of Music, lectured at NYU and headed the violin department of the Westchester Conservatory of Music, where he founded and conducted its youth orchestra He also gave Master Classes in the U.S., Japan, Spain, Mexico and Argentina.
During his 50 years as a concert violinist, Banat owned and performed on two violins by Stradivarius: The 1682 “ex-Hill,” now called the “Banat” and the “Pingrillé” dated 1713.
His articles for Strad Magazine, The Italian Journal, Allegro Magazine, Black Music Research Journal and The New Grove 2000, led to his highly acclaimed biography, “The Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow” (Pendragon Press, June, 2006). Banat is currently working on his Memoirs.